Budget Linens

A great linen can really make a photo. But if you shopped for high quality tablecloths and runners frequently like I do, you’ll probably find yourself with sticker shock more often than you’d like. Some of the big name stores like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn have pretty good sales, but I still find myself wincing if I have to pay more than $20 for a tablecloth and even on sale their good stuff may run more. Yes, I am that cheap.

Luckily, for photography, perfectly hemmed corners are rarely necessary. I invest in a few high-end cocktail and full sized napkins if I need to show a seam… the rest of the time, I simply use roughly cut fabric in 1 or 2 yard sizes. Sometimes I even like to show the frayed edges in my shots (but not often or it strikes me as a bit too contrived). Quilting quarters also make fantastic faux napkins.


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Dishtowels are also a bargain and make great faux tablecloths, placemats or runners. In some cases, you can get away with dishtowels as napkins if they are strategically placed partly out of the frame. In general though, if you are buying fabric to use as a napkin in your shot, smaller is usually better… a full sized napkin is often too big or too thick for photos.

If you are looking for some fun places for fabric, here are a couple I’ve recently discovered:

Pink Chalk Fabrics carries gorgeous designer printed fabric in really fun colors as well as some great solid linen and Kona cotton.

Whipstitch Fabrics on Etsy has beautiful natural fiber fabric. I’m in love with Ikoi from Moda in Lime with it’s beautiful Japanese calligraphy and it’s only $8 per yard (plus shipping).

Oilcloth addict has some really bright oil cloths perfect for summer, and maybe even cooler, chalk cloth which would be great for pot lucks… you can just write on the cloth to say what is what!

In Seattle, I like stopping in to Stitches to browse their selection. They always seem to have something new.